Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How Majestic Is Your Name - Michael W. Smith


Do you remember what you were doing in 1981? I bet that Michael W. Smith recalls 1981. He might even say that this period was a defining moment in his life, the time when he wrote “How Majestic Is Your Name”. Smith was searching for direction after he graduated from high school in mid-1970’s West Virginia, but at first he found only blind alleys. College didn’t fit him, and his subsequent journey to Nashville, where he thought he had discovered a calling in the music industry, instead left him hooked on drugs. He was just 22 years old in 1979, and sinking fast when he finally prayed for a U-turn in his life. From that pit, perhaps, to where he began to grow in confidence and productivity, sprang the song that he wrote. It was an echo of a song written centuries earlier by another songwriter who knew what it was like to struggle, but who also knew what it was like to feel God’s saving hand.
Michael W. Smith soon met Deborah, his musical collaborator and future wife, and together they composed several songs, earning Smith a position with Meadowgreen Music as a writer in 1981. Smith must have been walking with a skip, huh? Who wouldn’t when relationships, both personally and professionally, are blossoming? The words of Smith’s song that same year make it apparent that he also must have been into God’s word, copying King David’s poem from Psalm 8:1 to create a melody for 20th century (and now 21st century) Christians. Now, thanks to Smith, when I hum the words to his song “How Majestic Is Your Name” I’m reminding myself of a bit of truth from His message to me. ‘What a Creator we have!’ I’m reminded, and He made me too. I matter to Him.
Some suggest that David might have sat in a pasture field at night, gazing at the stars, marveling at God’s creation when he wrote Psalm 8. While David was lauding God for creating, Michael W. Smith might have praised Him for re-creating. His life was in a pit just a few years earlier. Though it would be many years before he became a real star, no one would blame Smith in 1981 if he gave God credit for recreating his life. Almost everyone can probably remember a time when things were rough, maybe even critical, followed by some relief. The reverse may also be true, and that’s the scary part. If it’s great today, there’s always the chance it may fall apart for me tomorrow. And, it’s out there, the inevitable end of my mortality. Even for me, a believer, I don’t easily dwell on this. Creation is somehow always followed by extinction. But, only for a moment, because of God. Blessedly, the eternal recreation is also inevitable. So, today I extol Him for creating and recreating me, and for sustaining me tomorrow and forever.

 See the following sites for information about Michael W. Smith’s biography: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3430200066.html http://www.americansongwriter.com/2001/03/michael-w-smith-smiths-songs-reach-diverse-audience/

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Awesome God – Rich Mullins

We spend a lot of time in our cars, if you’re like me. So, it’s not a surprise that someone might have actually composed a tune or two while sitting behind the wheel. That’s how Rich Mullins came up with “Awesome God”, behind the wheel of his Ford Ranger. He was trying to stay awake, but unlike most of us, who’d probably turn up the radio, roll down the windows and let the wind blow, or maybe munch on a snack, Rich had a unique stay-awake method. It’s probably not a story that he would have told most people, this story of “Awesome God”, according to his friends. But, God can work even through the episodes that make us blush, or that seem mundane and ordinary. Rich liked humor, the weird sort that probably challenged some people. It was definitely off-the-wall, as one of his friends relates. You see, Rich preached to himself that lonely night in his truck on the way to a conference in Colorado. He made himself out to be the fiery, Bible-wavin’ madman, who had a message for sinnnn-ners! Do you ever remember watching Flip Wilson do his preacher skit on his 1970’s variety show? That’s how I imagine Rich Mullins must have sounded in the cab of the Ford Ranger on the way to a youth conference the night he wrote “Awesome God”. He was the preacher-rapper. You can hear it in the lyrics of the song, ‘cause it has rhythm. It may seem irreverent; some might even say it smacks of an unholy, blasphemous, cavalier nature. Yet, check out the song’s words. And, when combined with the music that our God gave Rich Mullins to write that night, it creates a memorable melody. God does work to make us learn a history lesson, even one wrapped up in a song. It’s tragically ironic that one of Rich Mullins’ most well-known tunes was birthed in a place that also eventually was the place of his demise. Rich died in a car accident in 1997, on a road in Illinois, and like years earlier, he was on the way to an event many miles away. Perhaps Rich was like the rest of us, who get tired on the road. He was human, after all. Yet, if the tedium got to him, there was at least one time he ignored the boredom and looked beyond the highway, beyond his fatigue. It should make us realize that God works in all kinds of situations, even on a strip of pavement that makes us heave a sigh. Our God doesn’t get tired, and He didn’t avoid the tragic either. Now, that’s truly an awesome God. See the following website for information on the song: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Awesome_God Another source for Rich Mullins story is the book “Celebrate Jesus: The Stories behind Your Favorite Praise and Worship Songs”, by Phil Christensen and Shari MacDonald, Kregel Publications, 2003. See also “The Complete Book of Hymns: Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2006.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

God Moves in a Mysterious Way – William Cowper

Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? (Job 11:7)

William Cowper (pronounced Coo-per) had evidently experienced in a personal way, and probably on more than one occasion, the mystery of God. If I had struggled emotionally as Cowper did throughout his life, perhaps I would have thrown in the towel, so to speak. After all, who would choose to worship someone he could not understand, whose ways left one feeling lost, maybe empty. Have you been there? There have been times when I’ve been blue, wondering what to do with myself. To be alone, without hope, is a pit. It’s at that point that most of us would, hopefully, be coaxed to talk to a friend or in a more serious case perhaps even a professional. Whatever the course of action, its objective would be therapeutic. Take a few moments and consider William Cowper’s therapy, which is revealed in his life-hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” that he wrote in 1774.

Cowper had occasional depression much of his life, probably rooted in early life when his mother died when he was six years old. He also struggled with memories of teasing at school and his father’s interference in a relationship with a woman as a young adult. As a young man, his father also urged him to study law, from which he suffered such mental anguish that he attempted suicide. As a patient in a mental institution, he recovered, and discovered therapy that had three legs – Christianity, poetry, and friendship. He discovered his need for God, and fused that with the poetry he began to compose, and with the camaraderie of Christians. One of them was John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace”, his collaborator throughout the remainder of his life. Together, they produced the Olney Hymnal in 1779.

“God Moves in a Mysterious Way” is, some believe, the last hymn that Cowper wrote, and though he fought the gloom, one senses in the song’s words that he had at last found a method for peace. Some believe the hymn was composed after Cowper was providentially delivered from a suicide attempt one evening. It’s said that his carriage to the Thames River became lost on the way to the place where Cowper intended to take his own life, and instead returned him unexpectedly to his home. From that incident, he may have written this great hymn. He rose above his pangs of despair with this formula: God can decipher the things in my life that perplex and trouble me. It’s said his last words were “I’m not shut out of heaven after all”, a hope-filled testament for anyone with lingering doubt about salvation’s assurance. God may often be inscrutable, but it seems as though Cowper had discovered that’s OK. If I feel mystified by things in my life, Cowper says in his composition, ‘Give it to the One above’. Who better than the Mysterious One can make sense out of riddles?

The following website has all six verses: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/g/m/gmovesmw.htm

Information on the life of William Cowper is found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Cowper See more information on the song discussed above in The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006. Also, see Amazing Grace: 36 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; and 101 Hymn Stories by Kenneth Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982.

See the following blog and another website on the song’s specific and inspirational story of how it was written: http://wordwisehymns.com/2009/11/15/today-in-1731-william-cowper-born/

http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/g/m/gmovesmw.htm

Friday, September 4, 2009

Come Thou Almighty King – Charles Wesley?

‘Come, Thou Almighty King’ sounds like an order, and a compliment in one statement, doesn’t it? In fact, read the words of all five of the song’s verses, and there are many statements that sound like orders for the Almighty to prove Himself, intermingled with praise offerings to the Holy One. There’s a command in almost every line, in fact, of the first four verses. The song makes one think of a Davidic battle psalm, a warrior’s shout to the Lord, a stirring appeal for God’s vengeance to come. The song’s composer is generally considered to be anonymous, but the words in it give us a hint of the songwriter’s situation, who he might have been, and of his abiding faith in the Almighty.

Many music historians think Charles Wesley composed the words to “Come Thou Almighty King”, since its call to God for protection from enemies is a familiar theme in his songs. It first appeared in 1757 in conjunction with a message by John Wesley, Charles’ well-known preacher-brother. The Wesleys were the first Methodists, who endured incredible persecution in Anglican England. So, the song’s message matches what a Wesley might have been pouring out of his soul, somewhat like what King David expressed in his psalms while on the run from his enemies. On the other hand, alert musicologists also note that the song’s meter is unlike most of Wesley’s compositions, and since he was a Methodist, he was usually predictable. The song’s arrival nearly coincided with a well-known tune “God Save Our Gracious King”, which was meant to honor England’s royalty, but was especially abhorrent to Methodists. Instead, they latched onto “Come Thou Almighty King”, which was sung to the same music for a time, but sung to an entirely different king, with gusto. (Today, the tune for “God Save Our Gracious King” matches “My Country, Tis of Thee”, but is not the tune used for “Come Thou Almighty King”. Instead, “The Italian Hymn” is the tune tied to “Come Thou Almighty King”.)

The song was also composed to remind Christians of the Trinity. In many renditions of the song, however, this original intent is blurred, an effect that would have offended its early advocates. Verse 1 is to the Father; verse 2 (and in some versions, also a third verse) recognizes the Incarnate Word – the Son; the following two verses call out to the Spirit as our Comforter, and finally to the three in one, the great mysterious Trinity. Did Charles Wesley in fact write “Come Thou …” ? Somehow, if what I can read of his life is true, I doubt he’d want us to debate it for long. He’d want us to think about the sentiment in the song. My God in His three persons is called upon with requests from the worshipper for 25 things in these five short verses (actually the last four are reminders of what we as worshippers do, with His help). (You can try counting them in the following link: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/c/t/ctak.htm). It might make one wonder ‘does He get weary of my neediness?’. Is that why there’s the three-in-one God, because I’d exhaust Him out if He were only one? No way, right? If nothing else, the song reminds me that God exists to hear my constant cries, to be my Savior in all things. Wesley (if he’s the author) had much he needed from God. Don’t we all?

See the following website for information on Charles Wesley:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Wesley

The following books were also used to gather information on the song:

“The Complete Book of Hymns: Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2006.

“Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990.

“101 Hymn Stories”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982.